In the summer of 1976, I was four years old. This was the summer Americans were told to go on the road and rediscover America. Our family followed the national advice and began a road trip that would take us from Oklahoma to Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. It was a magical time. We piled into our brand new ’76 Chevy Impala and tasted the freedom of the road. Even though I was only four at the time, two experiences were seared within my mind during those kodachrome brilliant hot summer days.
While in Colorado we visited an amazing amusement park called Santa’s Workshop. Ten miles west of Colorado Springs, they have North Pole experience complete with a Candy Cane slide and the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. I will never forget the moment I rode that wheel. My family peered up at the huge ferris wheel that was built upon a mountain at a 7,500-foot altitude. The wheel operator dared us to ride the enormous structure. My mother chuckled and said she would not, my father laughed as well. I stepped forward. I said I would like to ride. The carny asked if I was sure. Did I really want to ride all by myself? I nodded yes, and was lifted up into the seat. The carny man pulled down the restraining bar that floated eight inches above my legs. I looked around to see, and found I was one of very few people who had attempted the ride. As my seat rose ever higher, my knuckles whitened around the restraining bar. I realized how easily I could fall. I looked at the great space between my legs and the bar and stared at my little fingers pressed so tightly on the cool metal. I looked down at my scuffed canvas shoes as they dangled so many feet above the crowds. As I reached the pinnacle of the ascent, I looked down so far below at my small family. At that moment, I felt so proud, so strong; I alone had braved the ride. I was filled with fear but I would not let it panic or conquer me. I was so glad that I got to do this. I cherished the moment and the trust my parents had in me, that even though I was only four, I could be brave. I was joyous and I was on top of the world.
That was an empowering experience. I floated bravely above for a few moments, but most of life is lived upon the ground. It is just as important to find empowering events within one’s daily life. So my other amazing experience of the summer of 1976 would be considered a boring reality to many, but I still remember and cherish the opportunity to get ice from the motel ice machine. To this day I cannot pass a hotel ice machine without smiling. Have you ever noticed as an adult you must crouch down slightly to get ice from these machines? I have often thought they were designed with a child’s height in mind. When I was four, many privileges and responsiblties were literally out-of-reach. I could not reach the sink to wash dishes or get a drink. I could not reach the dishes in the cabinets to set the table. But as we stayed in hotels, I began to relish my new duty of getting ice. I would take the ice bucket and would run down the hall to the ice machine. I would listen to its calming motor hum, as I would place the bucket on the lever. The rattling clunks would echo inside the machine, as the motor would gear up. The hole above the lever would begin to spew the mounds of ice into the bucket. Hotel after hotel, I would do this ritual and I discovered there were many types of ice. In some motels it would come out as cubes, sometimes it would be frozen rounded discs and sometimes wedge shaped smiles. By far, my favorite ice was the donut type. This ice would cascade out in circles. My sister, my brother and I would eat this ice like it was popcorn. I loved the way it would roll within my mouth. I loved the delightful chill of slipping my tongue inside the hole within the ice. I would press my tongue until eventually the ice would turn thin and sharp, and then I would crunch my teeth upon the shards. I loved chewing ice, but even more I loved the ability to get that ice myself.
So the child I was became the wife that stood in front of other ice machines. Pastel pitchers had replaced the old plastic bucket. I had lived much in the 33 years between hotel ice machines and hospital ice machines. I had married, given birth, managed stores and was well acquainted with both responsibility and privilege. So as I begged for access to information and asked how I could help my husband, I was handed a plastic pitcher and given the one duty I could be trusted with. I could get him ice water. Each day, many times a day, I would get Fred ice. I would leave the room and carry that little pitcher down the hall and fill it up again and again. I grew concerned as time past that the facilities did not replace nor clean the pitcher.
In the first hospital we had the same pitcher for two weeks before it crashed upon the floor and shattered. It was then replaced. Fred went for another two weeks with his second pitcher. It was a mauve pink pitcher and I took it home upon discharge. (It became my water bucket while painting 73 Cents.) At the second facility, Fred again was given a plastic pitcher. After a week of using it, I came to the hospital one morning to find a black substance inside the bottom of the pitcher. I showed it to the nursing supervisor, she alerted other floors about the potential for patient harm. While Fred was hospitalized, we saw that facility take steps to discontinue use of the re-useable, yet never washed, plastic pitcher.
So as Fred grew more ill, I often thought of ice and ice machines. The first thing I would do each day was to get him ice. The last task before leaving his room was to check and see if his pitcher was still filled. It made me sad. Sometimes I too, would drink the water and chew the ice. I would think of the ice I sucked upon while I labored before the birth of our two sons. I would think of the happy anxious father who would eagerly go down the hall to get me ice chips. He was so nervous he practically bounded down the hall. I chucked through the pain of childbirth, upon seeing his behavior, but at least that duty made him feel useful.
Those are thoughts induced by chewing ice. Eventually thoughts like these grew into a blog. Eventually they were shared with anyone who would like to see them. On December 12th I wrote of ice. I wrote about the ice that chewed the bowels of a very important ship. I wrote about what medicine can learn from events within our past and the importance of wireless technology on the Titanic. The blog was called: Social Media on the Titanic: RT @Titanic #ICE BURG ahead :(
Because of that post I met an amazing man known as the Ice Chewer on Blogger and Twitter. He posted this comment:
I feel grateful that you are writing this blog. Our inefficient health care system manages to stay this way because patients and families, at the moment when they are most vulnerable, have to spend their emotional resources dealing with unilateral and arbitrary decisions of hospital administrators, insurance companies, and doctors. And that is how we lose our energies to fight for change. But seeing that you and others who went through a terrible experience are not giving up, gives us all some hope and inspiration to fight. Thank you!
That is how I met Yuval Sheer. He lives in New York and writes a wonderful blog that reflects upon life and art and, of course, chewing ice. In the classic sense of knowing someone by meeting him in person, I suppose we have yet to meet. I feel as though I know ice chewer through his quirky writing, interesting photos and the amazing artistic interpretations of created by his dear Mettookonet.
The ice chewer has posted comments on my blog 10 times and we also touch base on Twitter. In July, I was honored to receive a precious copy of his limited edition book: “Thoughts Induced by Chewing Ice.” It is filled with many posts of wisdom and makes me wish I could be far wittier than I am. The ice chewer writes with wit and humor as he chews on cold ice. I blog of pop culture, health and my family with deep emotion and often hot tears. We both use photos and art frequently to make points within our posts.
My favorite page within his book depicts an artist painting an I-phone at an easel. This page was based on a post from November 5th, 2009. The text of the post was as follows; “I took a photo with my cell of a man hanging his photography work on a wall at the subway station. He got angry and told me: "good luck with your non-creative life”. So I got creative, and blogged about it.” -posthttp://icechewer.blogspot.com/2009/11/good-luck.html
I love this statement. It is not enough to only paint. There are many types of artists and art, just as there are many types of ice. It is the thoughts induced by chewing ice and art that lead to innovation. Those thoughts can lead to change, to action. They can create a new hospital policy. They can lead to a change in national laws and they come from a willingness to share and contribute to the whole. Thank you so much Yuval Sheer for sharing your thoughts with me. Thanks for placing a picture of an artist on the 73rd page of your book.
The story matters, whether it written on 73 pages or paid for with 73 cents. I am glad I can share that story. I am glad I can bring it all to the table and present the patient voice. Little girls who ride Ferris Wheels can grow up to be brave women who climb high ladders and share sorrows for the entire world to see. Those women can meet brave men who share their vision and realize that every event and every person is important. These are the thoughts induced by chewing ice.
A poem to the Yuval Sheer:
I wrote about an ice burg and he found me.
In darkness, I swam upon the sea of data.
As the code and cold lapped upon me,
I wrote of the Titanic and of Twitter
on a cold December day.
And met he who chews the ice.